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Living by faith in Jesus requires a certain tolerance for contradiction. Things that we would normally say just don’t go together are put together and we are compelled to say, ‘it doesn’t make sense, but…’
For example, take God and man. God is God and man is man, the two don’t go together. But we confess that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man; not half and half, but fully God AND fully Man. And we say that we are saved by that contradiction.
The farther down this Christian road you travel, the more you’re bound to notice that God seems to enjoy shattering our comfortable little ‘consistencies’ with His uncomfortable and sometimes messy ‘contradictions.’ In place of our “blessed is the one who is happy,” He says, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” And we say, ‘wait a minute, those two things just don’t fit together.’
Whoever says that ‘persecution for doing the right thing,’ and ‘lucky duck’ go together is operating with a weird set of rules. But that’s what Jesus says.
In fact, most of these ‘beatitudes’ stand in utter contradiction to their direct object. At least the way we see things. Which of the following doesn’t fit?
‘sorrow and sadness,’
‘hunger and thirst,’
‘rejected by man,’
‘blessed are you.’
If we just changed that last one to ‘cursed are you,’ then they’d all fit together just fine, nothing out of place. But Jesus says that they all fit together just fine just they way that they are.
There’s obviously something strange going on here. Someone is monkeying around with the rules.
What we learned by experience to call a ‘contradiction,’ Jesus says is perfectly ‘consistent.’
What we say is bad for you, Jesus says is actually good for you.
This also of course means that there is a good chance that what we say is perfectly logical, Jesus might say, ‘makes no sense.’
What we say is ‘good for us,’ Jesus would say, ‘chances are it’s leading us right to hell.’
This is enough to give us a good case of spiritual vertigo. It’s no fun to loose your balance. It’s hard enough to safely negotiate your way through this world as it is,
let alone if your head is spinning,
let alone if the God/Man whom you’re trying to follow who is the One who is spinning it.
But of course Jesus would probably respond to all this by saying ‘blessed are those who feel dizzy because My Word has turned their world upside-down,’ ‘for they shall have true equilibrium.’
As it turns out, the thing that makes our ‘consistent’ a real ‘contradiction,’ and ‘Jesus’ contradiction’ a real ‘consistent’ is the way things turn out in the end.
The ‘poor in spirit’ and the ‘persecuted for the sake of righteousness’ in the end, receive the ‘kingdom of heaven.’
‘Those who mourn’ are ‘comforted.’
The ‘meek’ ‘inherit the earth.’
‘Great is the reward in heaven for those who are reviled and persecuted falsely on account of their faith in Jesus.’
And suddenly the spinning stops and the dizziness passes. By His Word, Jesus brings calm out of the chaos that His Word created in us. With the end in sight, the present contradiction the only sensible way to go. It’s not Jesus who is operating with a weird set of rules; it’s us, and this world that we live in that refuses to see where OUR WAYS end up.
The dizzying confusion of ‘God’s ways are not our ways’ is resolved by the Word that gets into our eardrums and heals us of our vertigo. It gives us a whole new sense of balance and steadiness and we confess, Jesus Christ “is the way and the truth and the life.”
One of the many reasons that it’s important to come to church every week is because our internal gyroscope is always getting thrown off kilter and needs to be reset. We come in here from out there where so much is a contradiction to the way of the Lord. And our faith is weak and we get confused and before we even realize it, we’ve lost our balance and gone upside down.
So we come here to be turned around again and regain or balance. The Holy Spirit is the great ‘stabilizer’ of His ‘unstable church.’ He works through Word and Sacrament to ‘invert us,’ or ‘convert us,’ however you want to say it. Here, God’s Holy Word is the solid, unshifting foundation for us to travel on. Here, we walk together, in a holy communion with our Lord and with one another. And balance is restored.
But of course, as soon as we leave here and go out there, we realize that everything is now upside-down compared to in here. The people are all walking on the ground but it’s like you’re walking on the ceiling. And naturally, they think you’re pretty weird. Your ways are not their ways. You are a ‘contradiction’ to the ways of the world.
St. John writes, “the reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1). Jesus is the ‘touchstone.’ A ‘touchstone’ is a stone that gold and silver are tested against to determine if it’s pure gold and silver. The ‘touchstone’ tells you if the real thing or a counterfeit. The world doesn’t know how to tell the difference between the real thing and the fake because it doesn’t have the ‘touchstone.’
And so, in its’ worldly wisdom, it calls the counterfeit real and the real it calls a ridiculous fake, an utter contradiction to the truth. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, then the “poor in spirit,” “the meek,” “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” “the persecuted for righteousness sake,” are not “blessed,” they’re “losers.”
The reason that the world is so confused and disoriented is because it doesn’t see… or it refuses to see… how things turned out in the end for the Crucified One.
The “death of Christ” and “the life of the world,” just don’t go together…
That’s just a stupid contradiction if you don’t know that the Crucified One is also the Risen and Ascended One.
And so because the world doesn’t know Him, it doesn’t know us either.
And that is why the “way of faith” can be such a “lonely way.”
And why our “life together” is so important.
“Encourage one another and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Heb. 10:25).
The world does not know Him… but you know Him. He is the almighty God who created the world and holds it all together, and He is meek and humble Man who stoops down to be your servant. He is the “Divine / Servant.” How’s that for a wonderful contradiction? “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that you may be the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21). Don’t you just love the way God puts together things that just don’t belong together?
While we were still happily spinning away in a cyclone to hell – He came to us – and rescued us. He plucked us out of the cyclone and took us up in His whirlwind. And one day, a long way from Kansas, we’ll land right in His Father’s house, in the room that He prepared for us from all eternity.
Beloved, ‘see’ what the world cannot see because it does not know Him. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be CALLED children of God; and so we are.”
In the beginning, as God created each part and piece of His creation, He CALLED it, and whatever He CALLED it, that is what it was, and still is. “And God CALLED the light, Day, and the darkness he CALLED Night.” (Gen.1:5). “And it was so.”
You are CALLED, ‘child of God,’ “and so you are.” “And it is so.” God CALLED you “MY CHILD,” when He brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light through the waters of your baptism. You ARE what He CALLED you.
“Beloved, we are God’s children NOW…” Not later. Not someday if you ever shape up and start acting like a responsible child of God. Not someday when you decide you’re ready to be called a child of God.
‘We are God’s children NOW…” Even when our behavior is an utter contradiction to that to which we have been CALLED. God’s Word is God’s Word and He cannot be unfaithful to Himself.
So, NOW we are God’s children… AND we are also the children of Adam and Eve NOW.
We are simultaneously saint and sinner;
upside down and right side up,
confessing that God’s ways are my ways, and acting as though they were not;
a contradiction to the ways of the world and to the ways of God.
The truth is, “what we will be has not yet appeared…” What we will be – we already are. Our future is already present. But the final release from this simultaneous life is still NOT YET. NOW we are the children of God… and NOW we are ‘poor in spirit,’ and NOW we ‘mourn,’ and NOW we ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness,’ and NOW we ‘are persecuted for righteousness sake.’ It’s enough to make your head spin blur your vision.
St. Paul concurs with St. John. “For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. NOW I know in part; then I shall now even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12).
We are God’s children NOW, but God has NOT YET made a public display of the glory and the righteousness that belongs to “MY CHILDREN.” NOT YET has He let us show off those white robes that He clothed us with in our baptism. NOT YET has He separated the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff which is still simultaneous within each one of His children. NOT YET has He brought us out of this ‘great tribulation.’
“But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
“In Him there is NO SIN…” “And we shall be like Him.” (1Jn.3:5)
In the beginning, “God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ (Gen.1:26). God’s will shall be done, even if He must enter His creation to redeem it with His life.
He became as we are so that we may become as He is.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” “And we shall be like Him.” (Heb. 1:3).
“And we shall see Him as he is.” Until He APPEARS, we live by faith. And by His own definition, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT SEEN.” (Heb.11:1).
He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb.13:5). And, “behold, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20). But as He ascended, a cloud hid Him from their sight, and He hasn’t been seen since.
Which is not to say that He’s left us or that He is not present with us, everywhere and all the time. Remember, God’s Word is God’s Word and He cannot be unfaithful to Himself. But we can’t see Him. Not yet. For now, He’s the INVISIBLE Man. Or better put, the INVISIBLE God/Man.
But He has given us a way that we can locate Him for now. He promised us that He would wear a hat. And wherever we see His hat, we know that He is under it.
And so, until that day when He APPEARS, and we SEE HIM AS HE IS, it’s important to keep an eye on the hat –
the sacramental water where He plucks you out of the cyclone and brings you into Himself;
the sacramental absolution where He forgives you all of your sins and turns you right side up again, and again and again;
the sacramental preaching where you hear His voice – “I love you and I always will.”
And the sacramental bread and wine where He puts His very holy body and blood to your very unholy body and blood… and “blessed are you.”